The Brutal Chicago landmark that's always been cool

Born on this day, Bertrand Goldberg combined brutalism with the kind of amenities we now take for granted
Marina City, Chicago by Bertrand Goldberg, as reproduced in Atlas of Brutalist Architecture
Marina City, Chicago by Bertrand Goldberg, as reproduced in Atlas of Brutalist Architecture

When it comes to brutalism, we may think we know the story. These bold constructions – always better loved by architects than the public – were erected in the middle of the 20th century, then in many cases left to crumble until, in recent years, architecture fans began to campaign for their conservation.

However, as our new book Atlas of Brutalist Architecture argues, there's an ever-growing consensus that Brutalism is less of an historic movement confined to certain decades of the twentieth century, and more of a continually evolving tradition that draws on a multitude of influences. These range from the individual to the global, from the specific to the general, and from the aesthetic to the theoretical – in the form of exemplary single buildings, critics and thinkers and influential individual architects.

One of those architects was the Chicago architect Bertrand Goldberg, born today, 17 July, in 1913. Though his Astor Tower was, in some ways, more groundbreaking, Goldberg is responsible for “the unquestionable twentieth-century landmark of Chicago, the Marina City residential complex, featured in our forthcoming book, Atlas of Brutalist Architecture.


Goldberg showing the maquette for Marina City, Chicago
Goldberg showing the maquette for Marina City, Chicago

“Situated on the bank of the Chicago River in downtown Chicago, the Marina City complex consists of two cylindrical towers (which, at 60 storeys tall) were the highest residential skyscrapers in the world at the time of their completion. The rhythmical form of rounded balconies presents a new form of high-rise, a typology mostly associated with a rectangular rational grid during the 1960s.”

As with many successful works of architecture, some of Marina City’s success lies in the brief. “Goldberg was commissioned by enlightened developer William McFetridge, president of the Building Service Employees International Union, to design a ‘city within the city’ and attract people to stay and live in the centre of Chicago,” we explain in our new book. “The architect designed a structure to house a complex series of uses, including residential living, communal spaces and public services such as a theatre, a gym, a swimming pool, an ice rink, a bowling alley, shops, restaurants and a private marina for the residents.


Atlas of Brutalist Architecture

“The cylindrical towers offer 360-degree views of Chicago and consist of 900 units in both towers, incorporating nineteen floors of spiral garages at lower level. Today the complex maintains most of its original functions and living spaces, and it has become a popular residential location once again.”

Goldberg went on to create some other much-loved, mid-Seventies masterpieces - The Prentice Women's Hospital in Chicago and St Joseph's Hospital in Tacoma, Washington - both featured in Atlas of Brutalist Architecture.


St. Joseph's Hospital, Tacoma, Washington - Bertrand Goldberg Associates
St. Joseph's Hospital, Tacoma, Washington - Bertrand Goldberg Associates

For more on brutalism around the world get Atlas of Brutalist Architecture and This Brutal World.

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